[A Treatise on the Special Laws, Which Are Referred to Three Articles of the Decalogue, Namely the Third, Fourth, and Fifth; About Oaths, and the Reverence Due to Them; About the Holy Sabbath; About the Honour To Be Paid to Parents.]
I. (1) In the treatise preceding this one we have discussed with accuracy two articles of the ten commandments, that which relates to not thinking that any other beings are absolute gods, except God himself; and the other which enjoins us not to worship as God any object made with hands. And we also spoke of the laws which relate specially to each of these points. But we will now proceed to discuss the three which come next in the regular order, again adapting suitable special laws to each. (2) And the first of these other commandments is not to take the name of God in vain; for the word of the virtuous man, says the law, shall be his oath, firm, unchangeable, which cannot lie, founded steadfastly on truth. And even if particular necessities shall compel him to swear, then he should make the witness to his oath the health or happy old age of his father or mother, if they are alive; or their memory, if they are dead. And, indeed, a man’s parents are the copies and imitations of divine power, since they have brought people who had no existence into existence. (3) One person is recorded in the law, one of the patriarchs of the race, and one of those most especially admired for his wisdom, “as swearing by the face of his father,” for the benefit, I imagine, of all those who might live afterwards, and with the object of giving necessary instruction, so that posterity might honour their parents in the proper manner, loving them as benefactors and respecting them as rulers appointed by nature, and might therefore not rashly invoke the name of God. (4) And these men also deserve to be praised who, when they are compelled to swear, by their slowness, and delay, and evasion, cause fear not only to those who see them, but to those also who invite them to take an oath; for when they do pronounce the oath they are accustomed to say only thus much, “By the–;” or, “No, by the–;” without any further addition, giving an emphasis to these words by the mutilation of the usual form, but without uttering the express oath. (5) However, if a man must swear and is so inclined, let him add, if he pleases, not indeed the highest name of all, and the most important cause of all things, but the earth, the sun, the stars, the heaven, the universal world; for these things are all most worthy of being named, and are more ancient than our own birth, and, moreover, they never grow old, lasting for ever and ever, in accordance with the will of their Creator.